News Room

'Operation Wrangler' rolling across state
January 24, 2007

The first of 604 armed Texas National Guard troops were on patrol along the Rio Grande and elsewhere in the state today as Gov. Rick Perry launched a "rolling surge" of soldiers whose goal is to curb border crime.

Written by Sig Christenson, San Antonio Express-News

Zeke

Perry wasn't worried about a repeat of a 1997 incident in which U.S. Marines killed Redford goatherd Ezequiel Hernandez.

The first of 604 armed Texas National Guard troops were on patrol along the Rio Grande and elsewhere in the state today as Gov. Rick Perry launched a "rolling surge" of soldiers whose goal is to curb border crime.

Over time, a dozen Texas Guard "security platoons" will work around the state with U.S. Border Patrol agents and local police to thwart criminals.

"This is basically going to be a rolling surge operation all across the state," Perry spokesman Robert Black said Tuesday. "It's not just the border area; it's from the Panhandle on down."

Most of the Texas Guard troops assigned to "Operation Wrangler" will be posted in high-threat areas on the border and elsewhere under the governor's new effort to counter smugglers and drug-related crime.

Black didn't explain the rules of engagement under which the troops would operate, but another state official said any order to fire would come from the team's Border Patrol agent or local officer.

In all, more than 6,800 people will be involved in Operation Wrangler, with personnel coming from the Texas Guard, 133 police departments and 90 sheriff's offices. The Texas Department of Public Safety, Parks and Wildlife Department and the U.S. Coast Guard also will be involved.

The 604 Guard members will be in addition to 1,700 called to duty for Operation Jump Start, last summer's border initiative ordered by President Bush. Federal or local law-enforcement officers in the teams will make arrests, said Black, who didn't say if Texas Guard troops would assist in those apprehensions.

The troops are "deterring crime and being a disruption to the criminal element," he said. "There are National Guard on the border that are doing the same thing, assisting law enforcement. This is no different."

But the National Guard Bureau reported that only two of its organizations, in Louisiana and Puerto Rico, now have troops on duty acting in a law-enforcement capacity.

Guardsmen work in roving patrols in New Orleans to combat violent crime. In Puerto Rico, the Guard began pulling security last December for power lines and other facilities after fire shut down a power plant. A union contract had expired around the time of the fires, but the FBI found them to be accidents.

The National Guard Bureau said neither California, Arizona nor New Mexico has units like Texas' security platoons.

"We have nothing like that, and we have no plans for anything resembling that," Arizona National Guard Maj. Paul Aguirre said.

California Guard officials did not return phone calls.

The National Guard has had a much higher profile since Gulf War I, when it played a major role in transportation and military police activities. Guard troops later became major players in overseas peacekeeping missions during the past decade.

One Guard official said it was "exceedingly rare" for part-time troops to work in law enforcement capacities before 9-11.

The Texas Guard's chief spokesman, Col. Bill Meehan, declined to comment on the governor's plan, which will be outlined today in McAllen. But he said the Guard, which boasts a force of 21,000, would be able to provide enough troops for Operation Wrangler.

While Texas Guard troops have been effective in helping reduce border crime, they have neither fired their weapons nor suffered injuries as a result of confrontations along the Rio Grande, Meehan said.

The governor's decision to create the security platoons was not prompted by any incidents on the border, said Black, who called it "an ongoing evolution" that began this past February.

He said the Mexican government had expressed no concerns about the use of the Texas security platoons and that Perry wasn't worried about a repeat of a 1997 incident in which U.S. Marines killed Redford goatherd Ezequiel Hernandez.

"The governor's not going to live in fear of what may or may not happen as we secure the border," Black said.

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